Five Years Free

It’s been five years.  I don’t even know how to quite process that.  Five years.

For the first time, I’m not anxious, not really.  Usually, in the weeks running up to this date, I’m so hyper-aware of it, I find my anxiety is building more and more as it gets closer and the flashbacks get worse and worse.  But I have to say, this year, I’m just not really feeling it so much.  I’m aware it’s there and, as I said last year, there’s really traumatic memories involved, but I’m just not feeling the same sense of panic and emptiness and fear that I’ve felt in previous years around this date.

I guess, maybe, it’s because I’m doing better?

I know I’ve had a rough patch, the DWP will always throw me into a rough patch and I’ve really been suffering the past few weeks, but overall, I have been doing a little better.  Or, at least, I’ve been able to process a lot of trauma and do a lot of that whole ‘healing’ thing and as a result, I’ve been able to get a lot of things straighter and clearer in my mind.

I’ve found my voice, as a result, has gotten so much clearer too.  My voice doesn’t shake quite as much, my hands don’t hesitate when I’m typing quite as frequently when it comes to saying words like trafficking, rape, domestic abuse, incest.  I’m not hesitating, I’m not doubting myself.  For years, even if on some very logical, objective level I’ve known the words were real and relevant and applied to me, I’ve doubted myself so much.  I’ve always had that moment where a pit of guilt in my stomach bubbles over.  How dare I use those words?  How dare I say such horrible things about my family and people who (supposedly) cared for me?  How dare I take words away from real survivors?  I have no right to use these words.  It’s taken me such a long time to believe them, to really believe them.  To fully understand their weight and how they apply to me.

I guess, I’m finally starting to reach a point where I can truly put the blame and the shame and the guilt where it belongs.  I’m finally starting to reach a point where I can see that I was a victim.  That they victimised a child, a traumatised young woman.  That they did these things to me.  That I’m not the one that made them happen; either through my own actions or ‘bad’ behaviour or through some weird twist of fate that deemed me nothing more than a ‘whore’ and deserving of everything that happened to me.

I’m not there completely, not yet, I still have those moments of doubt, those moments where the guilt bubbles up inside me.  But I am getting there and I really have moved so far in the last few years.

I think, in all honesty, one of the most important things I’ve done in the past five years is focus on me.  Which is odd, considering how much of a class based theorist I am.  You’d think I’d’ve done more than this blog to try and reach out, do more for women like me.  But I couldn’t and it was right that I didn’t.  For a start, I crashed in a seriously spectacular way five years ago today and even if I wanted to do more for others I just couldn’t.  Immediately after exiting I was a mess (as I discussed a little in this post).

I was in such a severe dissociated state that I barely remember anything of those weeks, months.  I remember that I spent the first night just sitting in my friend’s flat.  Just staring, barely even blinking, at the wall.  I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep.  All I could think about was how much I wished I was dead.  That was a recurring theme for those months, really.  I was basically just an empty shell and I wished for nothing more than death.  Weirdly, I never actually tried to kill myself at that point in my life.  Which is odd considering how much I wanted it.  I’d like to say that there was some innate survival instinct in me that recognised the magnitude of exiting, the freedom and the potential life that came with that.  But to be honest, I was probably just so empty and running so much on auto-pilot that I barely had the strength to even just kill myself.

The one thing I remember more than anything was just how alone I felt.  I wasn’t alone, not really.  People who really truly cared about me had helped me escape, they’d saved my life.  I played a role, of course, I had to want to leave, I had to want to accept their help, but without them I simply wouldn’t be here now.  But, I still just felt so alone.  I had ‘support workers’, but I didn’t feel like I had friends any more.  I was hiding out in a hotel for the three weeks immediately after escaping and I just felt so alone.  I had a few friends come and visit me there, though they were distant friends, old friends.  Friends who had no real clue about what was happening to me, why I was really in that hotel.  I may have let a few details slip, but they didn’t really know.  My closest friends, the friends I considered to be my ‘family’, they were absent.

I understand, actually.  Dealing with trauma is never easy, even if it’s someone else’s and they were all young.  I mean, we were all in our early-mid 20’s and while they were all experienced workers, none of them had ever really dealt with anything like me.  I understand why they kept their distance, why they didn’t know what to say, how to talk to me.  I understand why my old ‘support worker’ had to take me to them, why they never came to me.  I don’t really blame them, I don’t know if I would have wanted to be around me either.  But, understanding doesn’t stop just how much it hurt.  I felt so abandoned.  They were a big reason why I escaped in the first place.

Before them, I’d never really had real friends.  I’d never had anyone that really cared about me or had taken the time to try and understand me and my life.  And while some of them were older friends and had been around for a long time and while it is possible I had people that cared about me before that point, well, frankly, I’d never felt the same.  Not because I didn’t care about them, not really, but because I couldn’t let myself.  I couldn’t let myself care about anyone or anything else and I couldn’t let anyone care about me.  I’ve had so many people tell me that they care about me, that they love me, but that always resulted in my getting hurt.  So I stopped letting people in.  Until them.  Until that group of friends showed me so much love and care.

It gave me a taste.  It gave me a taste of freedom.  It gave me a taste of love.  It gave me a taste of mattering.  It gave me a taste of things I had never, ever had.  And it was them I had in mind when I finally made the decision to leave.  I didn’t want to be alone and closed off and hurt any more.  I wanted friends, a family, I wanted to be cared for and able to care for others.  I wanted a ‘normal’ life.

But then they backed off and I was alone and heart broken and hurting so much.  To have one of the biggest reasons you exited in the first place taken away from you so soon after actually exiting.  It really fucking hurts.  And it became my biggest reason to go back.  What was the point in escaping to a life of loneliness and emptiness and hurt?  I had that where I was and I also didn’t have incredibly violent people searching for me.  What was the point in trying?

I understand their reaction and distance, but it really did hurt.

Where was I going with this?  Oh yeah, the hotel and the months after.  The sum up is that I was a complete fucking mess for a really long time and even if I wanted to do more, do whatever I could to help and support other women like me, I simply couldn’t at the time and I wouldn’t have been able to for most of the last five years.

And the simple truth is, it’s good that I didn’t.

Now, I have so much fucking admiration for the exited women that throw themselves right out there.  Who have devoted their lives to helping and supporting other women to exit, to campaigning, to setting up safe houses, to setting up amazing organisations.  I just have so much respect for them and I’m so in awe of their courage and their strength.  But it’s not something I could have done straight away and it’s not something I should have done straight away.  And I have to say, that part of me does worry about some of these amazing women, I see how much they hurt and they struggle and it sometimes makes me so sad that they never had the chance to heal.

I’m not saying I did it better, I’m not saying I did it the right way, I’m not saying that these women are stupid (like I’d ever say that?) for putting their work before their own healing and recovery.  I’m saying that it definitely wasn’t the right thing for me and I’m saying that I do have some concern for my sisters who I see struggling now.

I’m not stupid, I know that not everyone was as lucky as me.  I know that not everyone has the chance of exiting and getting good therapy, with an experienced trauma therapist (or somehow, magically, even a therapist with a lot of experience in working with prostituted women) straight away.  I was very lucky in that regards.

Really lucky, actually.  Lucky because it has given me the chance to really try and process and heal from some of that trauma.  So many women have processed and healed from their work, but I just couldn’t do that.  I wasn’t strong enough to do that.  And now, now that I’m five years from exiting, I’m glad that I didn’t.  Therapy and healing and processing trauma has made me so much stronger and more determined than I was five years ago.  I know that as and when I’m ready to go into that kind of work, (Which seems almost certain to me, if not trafficking and prostitution directly then at least some support work around other women who have experienced trauma.) I’ll be in a much more stable and capable place than I’ve ever been before, I know that I’ll be able to do that work and do it to the best of my ability.

I’ve done similar work before and each and every time I’ve just ended up burning out and quitting/leaving because I’ve just not been able to take it, especially not with the weight of my own ongoing trauma.  Looking after myself first and foremost has put me in a position where I know I can spend the rest of my life doing what I can for other women.  My future plans belong to another post, though.

It’s been an incredibly long journey and I’m nowhere near done yet.  In reality, I’ve only had a handful of EMDR sessions (again, the detail for this belongs in another post) but already they’ve made such a fundamental difference to my life and I know that with more sessions and more of a focus on processing and dealing with trauma will make such a difference to my life and put me on track for that future.

I’m in such a better place than I was five years ago and not only because five years and one day ago I was still being trafficked by my family and having the crap beaten out of me by my ex.  I’m in such a better place, mentally and emotionally as well as physically.  And for the first time in my life, I actually believe that not only is this gonna stay the case, but I’m gonna end up in a even better place.

RS.

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Branded – Part One

I’ve been writing this post on and off basically since I started this blog (on another platform), each and every time I’ve found an excuse to not write it and even when I have I’ve done so in the lightest way I possibly could, I’ve done so in a way that doesn’t really say anything at all because to do so would hurt me too much.  This is a topic I’ve struggled with, well, for as long as I can remember.  It’s one that’s always caused me so much pain, shame, turmoil and to even just think about it leaves me feeling sick.

I decided to write this post today for one reason and one reason only.  Tomorrow, I won’t be able to write this post.  Or at least, I wouldn’t be able to write it from the same perspective that I have now.  Tomorrow, it will be gone, hidden.  Tomorrow I’ll no longer have the permanent reminder of trauma and pain and hurt etched into my skin.  Tomorrow, at least this one aspect of my trauma will start to heal.

My life as a five year old wasn’t easy.  I’ve been told five year olds should have it easy, but that certainly wasn’t my experience.  By this point, I was already being sold to men, but nowhere near to the same levels that I would experience later on in life.  My main concern at the time was my mother.  Each day, after school, I would have to pick my younger sister up from nursery, before long, they stopped questioning where my mum was, they got the usual response of ‘she’s outside having a cig’ each and every time and eventually just accepted it.  Whether they suspected that I was my sister’s primary carer at the age of five or not, I don’t know, but otherwise she would have been there all night before my mother remembered so it was much easier for me to take her.  Upon getting home, I had to both take care of my sister and clean the house to perfection.  My mum’s levels of perfection were beyond anyone’s I’ve ever known, and I’m a pretty huge perfectionist myself.  If things weren’t done to her standard then that meant trouble for me.

This one particular day, after picking up my sister, taking care of her all evening, feeding her whatever I could find and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning my mum finally came home.  I was kinda proud of myself, I knew I’d done a good job on the cleaning, I knew I’d done everything she’d expected.  She went to inspect the house as she usually does.  After a while, she came back downstairs with a glass in her hand, a glass I had apparently missed.  Now that I’m older and now that I understand my mother a little more, I think I hadn’t missed that glass at all, I think she had hidden it somewhere in her room so as to set me up, so as to give her ‘justification’ to punish me that night.

She threw the glass at me and then proceeded to beat me for not having cleaned properly.  She beat me with her fists, her feet, a plank of wood she always kept near the back door for this exact purpose.  The wood had nails hammered in one end.  Thankfully on this day I hadn’t done enough to deserve that end.  I dissociated.  Completely disconnected myself from my body so I couldn’t feel the pain.  I went as far away as I possibly could.

At some point, she took off my pants and sat on top of me.  She picked up a piece of the broken glass and started cutting into the top of my right thigh.  The sharpness of it drew my attention, a different pain than the one the beating had given me and breaking me out of the dissociation.  It hurt so badly and I panicked, trying to push her off of me, but I had no chance, the weight of an adult on a five year old body is not one that can be easily moved.

She laughed at me, said ‘it’s not going to stop until you learn to behave or you’re dead.  If you want it to stop so bad you should just kill yourself.’

When she got off of me, I clearly remember already knowing what it was that my leg said, leading me to think that this wasn’t the first time she’d done this and just merely the first time I remember it happening.  I knew that she had (once again?) carved the word ‘whore’ into my leg.

As she walked away, leaving me lying on the kitchen floor, my leg still bleeding.  She threw the first aid kit at me, stocked full of painkillers and nothing else (my mum got a lot of hangovers), she said again, ‘if you want it to stop’, I knew what she meant and I can say I seriously considered it.  At five years old I knew what it was to want to die, to want to take my own life.  It’s my earliest memory of having suicidal thoughts, but certainly not my last.  I spent most of the night on the kitchen floor staring at those painkillers and wanting more than anything else to just make it all stop.  There have been so many nights since where I wish I had taken an overdose that night, knowing that if I just had I would have saved myself seventeen years worth of pain and the pain of living with that trauma since.  Though, I know now, that I would have missed out on so much good, too, even if that is only recent.

‘Whore’ was carved into my leg repeatedly over the years.  Either as a punishment, whilst I was being raped or simply because it had faded to an unacceptable level.  Mostly it was my mum, but occasionally my step-dad/mum’s boyfriend and sometimes even clients.  The scars overlap one another, now, but I can still clearly see it.  Can still clearly see what they always deemed me to be.

I’m ashamed to say there were times where I carved it in to myself as an act of self-injury.  At times I just became so overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed with shame, guilt, self-hatred, disgust at what I was, what I did, what my life was.  Where I would just be so disgusted, hated myself so, so much that I would carve it into myself in anger because that was what I was, right?  That was all I was worth.  That’s what my life was and I hated myself for it, I hated myself more than words could ever say.  Even this paragraph seems so empty compared to how I felt at those points.  I’ll never be able to put into words just how much I hate myself at times, especially back then, especially when my body was being used each and every single day by gross, disgusting men.

It’s a little on the nose to be a branding, but that’s what it ended up being.  I don’t think that was the intention, really.  It started as a way for my mum to shame and humiliate me, to make sure I knew exactly what I was worth.  But as the number of clients increased, as the trafficking of me became more and more organised and as my mum became involved in a trafficking ring, it became so much more.

I was, in a way, different from the girls trafficked alongside me.  I was owned by the same people, but I was more exclusively a possession of my mother (and at times her boyfriend, depending on her mood and whether she was pissed at him that day or not) and I was treated differently as a result.  I was simultaneously more special and worth less than the other girls.  I belonged personally to one of the traffickers in the ring, but was deemed public property for all, deemed most worthy of some of the worst punishments because I was worth less.  I don’t know how to explain this, I don’t know how to say this.  I’m not gonna say I had it any better or any worse than the other girls, but at the same time, I was in a different position.

Before my mother joined that ring, it was really small, just a handful of girls and no branding in sight.  It was barely even really a trafficking ring as such, it was more a group of paedophiles and violent men who were sharing out girls to rape amongst themselves.  It was more for their personal enjoyment and less about profit.  It was her influence that made it grow, that victimised more girls, brought in more clients and therefore more money and introduced branding to the group.  My ‘whore’ scarification was repeated on the other girls, though theirs included numbers.  Despite my not having been the first girl trafficked there, I was considered number one, zero even.  I was the prototype.  Years of abuse and rape and conditioning at the hands of my mother meant I was considered the best example of what a whore should be, a training regime to be modelled.  I didn’t fight, I didn’t kick up a fuss, I didn’t cry unless it was expected, I could dissociate well enough and far enough away to take un-imaginable amounts of pain.  Once again writing any of this sounds like I’m bragging, sounds like something that I’m proud of.  I’m not.  It’s not something I wanted, it’s not something I worked for.  It’s what I was made into.  My being the ‘perfect whore’ (as I was so often told I was) was purely the result of repeated rapes and beatings and pain and conditioning from my mother.  I became what they wanted so I could survive.

Again, it seems really on the nose for a branding, but the clients lapped it up.  It was private, the top of the thigh where only they could see, only if you was raping one of us would you see that part of our body.  It suggested pain, having a knife digging into your leg isn’t a pleasant experience and the clients got off on it, knowing what we must have gone through to be their ‘whore’ for the night.

More than anything, it was a sign of our ownership.  When I was thirteen and pregnant, I went out looking for my own ‘work’.  I was convinced that if I could just make enough money, I could run away with my child and start a new life.  This lasted all of thirty seconds.  I found myself in the back of a local take-away with men who have since been arrested for running a trafficking ring in the same town my mother ran hers.  They had agreed to rape me and were willing to give me a good chunk of money for doing so and were willing to let me work from there if I proved good enough.  One of them saw the scarification on my leg and freaked out.  He’d recognised it and had decided he did not want to fuck with any of my mother’s property.  He gave me £50 and told me to leave and not tell her I’d been there, that he didn’t want any trouble.  I don’t think he knew who I was, he just knew I belonged to her.  There have been times since where I’ve realised I could have gotten significantly more than £50 if he’d known I’d been her daughter.  Seeing a grown man actually scared made me realise just how much power and influence my mum had.  He’d given up the chance to rape a vulnerable, pregnant teenage girl because of her.  I belonged to someone else, I was not his to rape and definitely not his to sell.

This is the bit I don’t want to write, the bit I’ve been avoiding writing fully for so many years.  You see, those scars are still there.  They were last carved into me on the 3rd May, 2012, the last time I saw my mother, the day I exited.  And each and every single day I have to live with them.  And trust me when I say they’re not easy to live with.

Every time I have to change my clothes, have a shower, even just sitting on the loo, those scars are right there staring up at me.  Right there reminding me just how little I’m worth, reminding me of all the pain and the trauma and the rapes, reminding me of everything I’ve had to live through.  They feel me with such shame and guilt and humiliation, each time I see them I get flashbacks and memories pushing their way into my head, reminding me of everything I’ve been through so as to live up to that word.  Reminding me of everything that was done to me because that’s all I’m worth.

I’m a trafficking survivor, so finding a comfortable space within my own body is almost impossible as it is.  Each part of my body has been touched, hurt and violated by waves and waves of men.  Each part of my body holds a memory.  Each part of my body remembers the trauma that was done to me.  But this?  This just adds a whole new layer of pain and hurt that I can’t even adequately put into words.  It’s one thing knowing just how little you’re worth, but having it quite literally carved into you is a whole new layer of pain.  Having to see each and every single day that you’re nothing more than a ‘whore’.  Knowing that that’s how you’ve always been viewed.  Being scared that that’s how you’re always going to be viewed.  I can barely look at myself and especially at those scars without feeling so disgusted with myself, so ashamed of myself and all the things I ‘allowed’ to happen to me and my body.

I can barely allow myself to be naked, to look at my own body (what kinda body-positive feminist does that make me?).  I can’t shower without getting panic attacks and flashbacks.  I can barely touch that part of my skin.  I can’t even have a piss without it being right there in front of me.  When I was younger, I used to wrap bandages around it, so I could hide it from myself and others.  Now I just opt to never wear shorts that don’t cover it.  To never let others see it.  I don’t swim unless I’m wearing trunks (and swimming used to relax and calm me so, so much).  I still flinch and freak out if anyone touches my thigh, remembering all the clients that used to stroke and lick it as a part of their own sick pleasure.

But it’s not just about comfort, either my own or other’s, it’s about me.  This is supposed to be my body, but whilst their word, their views, their ownership is carved into me, it can never be mine.  It’s always going to be ‘theirs’.  And I can’t live with that constant reminder any more.  I can’t live with it always right their in front of my face.  I can’t live with seeing it each and every time I undress or shower or go to the loo.  I can’t live with the reminders every time the scars itch.  I can’t see ‘whore’ every time I look at myself – I need to see something else, something of my own choosing.  I want to be able to reclaim my body, reclaim myself – or well, my body has always belonged to them, so it’s less about reclaiming and more about finally making my body mine.  For the first time in my life, having my body belong to me.  I don’t want to be their ‘whore’ any more.

The thing is, as of tomorrow, I won’t be!

But more about that in my next post as this one has already been rather wordy!!

RS.

Permanent Reminders

My body is a minefield, a map of memories and hurt and pain.  I can’t look at my own body, I can’t even let myself connect with my body without that pain coming to the surface.  It’s so often assumed that the pain of exited women is all mental and emotional, which a good chunk of it definitely is, but similarly to other survivors, we also have to live with the, often permanent, physical ramifications of trauma.

Living with these permanent reminders is one of the hardest things for me.  Each time my knees give way or suffer a particularly violent shot of pain, I’m reminded of exactly how they were broken, exactly what caused them to be so weak and left me needing regular physio.  Same when I suffer a migraine or a fibro. flare-up or when my shoulders are especially painful.  I was naive to think that the pain would stop upon exiting.

In a lot of ways, I’m lucky.  My body isn’t quite as much of a mess as it should be, considering what it’s been through, but living with those permanent reminders, whether they be physical scars or pain or old injuries flaring up gets harder and harder each day.  And it’s not just the direct results of trauma, it’s the indirect results too – it’s the fibro., the migraines, the UTI’s, the IBS and possibly even the asthma.

Studies show that all the above conditions, as well as many others, have very, very strong links to trauma.  That the body holds just as much trauma as the mind does and it doesn’t respond to it overly well.  Between the physical remains and the chronic conditions, my body is constantly trying to remind me of the trauma I went through and whilst it’s vaguely possible to escape your own body with dissociation, it’s not always.  I can never escape the pain and trauma of prostitution.

It’s hard enough living with the mental effects of trauma, but having to live with the permanent physical reminders just makes life so much harder.  I can’t even walk without being reminded of what they did to me.  I can’t lift up a cup of coffee without risking dropping it from nerve damage.  I can’t lift my shoulder too high because of an old dislocation.

And I’m not the only one.  Whether it’s a direct result of injuries, old scars or the chronic health conditions that we’re left with as a result of trauma, I’m not the only exited woman to live with constant reminders, constant pain.  It’s not just the emotional and mental aftermath we have to deal with, it’s the physical, too.

So often survivors, and especially exited women (because it’s just a ‘choice’ and therefore can’t possibly be traumatic) are told to just ‘get over it’, to just ‘forget it’.  But we’re not just fighting the emotional aftermath, it’s the physical, too.

And that’s not even considering the effect that the physical aftermath has on our emotional states.  Besides the sheer levels of dissociation we have to reach to distance ourselves from our bodies and thus the pain, we also have to deal with the associated depression, memories of trauma, shame and humiliation, deal with the crap people with invisible disabilities deal with and deal with the extreme levels of body hating that exited women are able to reach.  Whether we respond to this body hating with self-harm, starving ourselves, binge eating, purging, over-exercise, body modifications, hiding our bodies with big, baggy clothes, dissociation or any other numerous responses, the root cause is still the same – hatred of our own bodies.  And can you blame us, can you blame us for hating our own bodies so much?  Our bodies were the source of our trauma, the vessel, the ‘thing’ it happened to.  And then it feels the need to remind us of that trauma each and every single day with the pain and the scars and the injuries and the body memories.  Of course we want to dissociate right out of our bodies, of course we want to destroy our bodies, change our bodies, take control over our own bodies.  Just anything, anything to make the pain of trauma finally stop – even if it takes years and years and years after trauma for it to finally stop – and with the ever lingering fear that it never, never will.

(Please note, I’ve been too ill – I’ve ironically had migraines all week whilst writing this post -to actually read the links provided above in full, but they show a relationship between the mentioned conditions and a history of trauma.)

RadSurvivor.

Four Years and Counting – Part Two

What happened that day, the 3rd May 2012, still haunts me in a way that I can’t even describe.  In the run up to this week, I’ve been doing my best to not even think about it, but part of me knows that I will never process memories if I keep avoiding them completely.  Sometimes, despite it seeming like the most illogical thing to do, the best thing we can do is sit with those memories, acknowledge those memories and do what we can to process those memories and our truth.  One of the ways of processing memories is to actually get them out, to tell them as they happened, detaching ourselves from the shame and the guilt and the overwhelming sense of dirtiness that we so often feel.  So here I am, processing and telling what happened on the day I finally exited.

(Once again, this will include graphic detail and will be long.)


The day started off actually OK.  I’d gone to therapy first thing in the morning and agreed to meet up with a friend right afterwards.  We were going to go shopping – she needed help getting some Doc Martens and I needed to get some tops which I could vaguely survive the heat in but would cover my SI.  We’d had a nice morning together, but I hadn’t slept the night before and by the time it reached dinner time, I was beyond exhausted and decided I was going to go home.  I wandered off to get the bus, sat down, dozing against the window when I felt someone sit next to me.

I didn’t even need to look, I could smell her, smell her perfume.  I knew it was my mum.  My stomach folded in on itself; I felt so sick and so scared.  I don’t know why I felt any more scared than usual, it was like I knew that day was going to be so much worse than any other.  I was terrified and I knew there was nothing I could do.  I don’t know why she was on that bus.  It did in theory go towards her house, but it wasn’t the best bus to get.  I usually pay so much attention to what happens around me, but I guess I was maybe so exhausted that I didn’t see her, that she’d seen me before I’d gotten on the bus and followed me, but I really just don’t know.

She put her bags on my lap and I resigned myself to what was going to happen.  This had happened a million times before, from when I was a child and I’d stopped caring so long ago.  I still felt the shame, still felt so incredibly dirty but as for what she actually did, I didn’t care at all.  Right from when I was a child, she always felt the need to try and humiliate me and shame me further.  To molest and abuse me in public where others could potentially see but inevitably never, ever seemed to.  This time was no different, she was touching me beneath the bags and I just zoned out, dissociated, did whatever I could to pretend it wasn’t happening.  Except, my friend rang me.  She was ringing to check to see I’d gotten the bus OK because I hadn’t answered her texts.  My mum made me answer it, made me talk on the phone to her whilst she carried on assaulting me.  I had never felt so humiliated.  So disgusted with myself.  So dirty.

When it came to my stop, a stop that was long before hers, I knew she was going to get off the bus with me.  I briefly considered shoving past her, running as fast as I could and locking myself in the building before she could get in.  But I knew it wasn’t going to happen.  I’d have to get past her, get across a busy road, dive in front of the bus, pull open the heavy security doors and wait for them to painfully close before I was safe.  I knew it wasn’t worth the effort, I knew she’d manipulate me into opening the doors again anyway.  I was terrified of what she was going to do to me, but I was more terrified of what would happen if I pissed her off and made it worse.

Those next several hours are a blur and frankly, that’s the way I’d prefer them to be.  I remember bits and pieces, here and there, but they’re fragmented and they’re far too painful to look on properly for too long.

She was angry at me, more angry at me than I’d seen her be in a very long time.  I think she knew, I think she knew that there was something different about me, that I was starting to get stronger, starting to reach out, starting to tell people the things I was never supposed to tell anyone.  I think she knew I was making plans to leave and disappear completely and whilst I didn’t believe myself that I’d ever go through with them, even just the thought of doing it was enough to show just how much control over me she was losing.

She kept asking over and over and over again what I was planning, what I was doing.  I couldn’t tell her at first, I was far too scared to admit to her I’d been planning on leaving, disappearing and never coming back – I knew that would piss her off even more than my not answering, I just couldn’t bring myself to open my mouth and say it to her.  She did anything she could to make me tell her, hurt me in ways I don’t even know how to put into words.  The pain was more than I could stand, I kept passing in and out of consciousness, both in a physical sense and in a dissociative sense.  She raped me, repeatedly, with anything she could find but kept coming back over and over to the knife she’d used on me so many times before.  She beat me, she cut me, she re-branded me, going over and over the same scars that had been there for as long as I could remember.

I reached the point where I wanted to tell her.  Wanted to tell her that I was planning on changing my name and what to.  Wanted to tell her about the flat I was possibly moving in to.  Wanted to tell her I was in therapy.  Wanted to tell her about all of the help and support I was being given.  Wanted to tell her exactly who was helping me (even though I knew it would put them at risk – something I still feel so much shame for even considering).  Wanted to tell her everything I’d said and who I’d said it to.  I wanted to give her what she wanted, just so I could make the pain stop, but I couldn’t.  I was too far gone, I was too overwhelmed with pain and fear and trauma to find a way to say the words and because I wouldn’t tell her, the pain wouldn’t stop.

Logically, now that I’m a few years away from it, I know it wouldn’t have made a difference.  I know that regardless as to whether or not I’d told her, the outcome would have been the same.  I’d put her ‘business’ at risk, I’d put her freedom and that of the men she worked with at risk, I’d put the freedom and reputation of her ‘clients’ at risk.  Nothing was going to calm her down from that, even if I had told her, her suspicions were enough and confirming them would most likely have put me at even more risk.

The pain, the rapes, the interrogation, the torture lasted for hours.  I don’t even really know how long.  I thought she was going to kill me, she was so angry, I wanted her to kill me, I wanted it to stop.  I woke up in the bath, I don’t know how long I’d been there, the bath was covered in my blood, I was covered in my blood.  I don’t remember getting out of the bath, putting clothes on, the next thing I remembered was sitting on the sofa, looking at my phone.

I knew I had a choice.  I knew she’d come back, I didn’t remember her leaving but I figured she’d gone to work, meaning she’d be back first thing in the morning.  I knew she was angry, angry beyond words.  I knew that even though she was angry about how much risk I’d put her and her ‘business’ in, she was angry about something else so much more.  She knew she was losing control over me.  She knew, even if I hadn’t confirmed, that I was planning on leaving.  She knew I was reaching out, telling people the things I was never supposed to speak of.  And now I’d refused to tell her what it was I was planning when as a child and a teenager I would have just broken instantly and told her without hesitation.  My mum didn’t like to lose, she had to win, always and her losing control over me meant that I was winning and that would have gotten to her more than anything else.

I knew I had a choice.  I had the choice to wait for her, to wait for her to come back and either drag me back into being prostituted daily, with no chance to ever escape, no chance to ever tell anyone ever again, be dragged back there forever.  Wait for her to come back and just kill me.  If I was dead, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t escape, I couldn’t put her or her ‘business’ at risk ever again.  I had the choice to just kill myself there and then.  To make it stop myself, to ensure that I never had to go back, didn’t have to be trapped there forever, never had to be raped or tortured or hurt ever again.  I had the choice to send a text and ask for help, to reach out to those who had offered me the help and the support and to let them help me to finally escape and disappear.

I wanted to die, more than anything.  I just wanted it to be over.  I was sure that that was the decision that I’d made, I was sure that it was what I wanted and what I was going to do.  Whether it was by my own hand or theirs, I was going to die, I wasn’t going to be hurt any more.  I didn’t believe that I could be really helped; I thought it was impossible to escape and that even if I did, it wouldn’t be for long, they’d inevitably track me down and kill me anyway.

I guess it was that thought that made me do it – that maybe it was worth a try, because worst case scenario, they’d find me and kill me anyway.  Best case scenario, I might be able to try for something different.  I didn’t believe I deserved anything different.  I didn’t believe that different or better was even remotely possible for me.  I figured that no matter what I’d end up back where I started, that I’d end up dead, just another statistic, so why not maybe at least try?

I don’t remember that, though, I don’t remember the thought process, I don’t remember sending the text.  I just remember finding myself packing a bag, not quite sure why or what I was even doing.  Holding my phone for dear life, waiting for it to ring.  I don’t remember sending the text, I don’t remember reaching out for help, I don’t remember making the decision to live, especially not after being so, so, so set on dying.

I barely remember the journey.  I know I ultimately ended up going from my flat to a friends where I was going to stay the night.  I don’t remember saying anything or doing anything.  All I remember of that journey was sitting in absolute silence, feeling so disgusting and dirty and ashamed, completely aware that I was bleeding and so terrified of leaving blood on the seat, just so overwhelmed with feelings of dirtiness.  I felt so disgusting, I didn’t want to be in her car, I didn’t want to be near her, she deserved better than having someone as disgusting and dirty as me in her car.  She had been so kind and so caring to drive that far, incredibly late at night to come and help me get out of a mess that I’d gotten myself into and how did I repay her?  By potentially bleeding all over her car seat.  I hated myself more than anything and found myself repeatedly asking myself why hadn’t I just gotten it over with, why hadn’t I just killed myself?

I didn’t sleep that night.  I don’t remember much of that night at all.  I know I very probably freaked my friends out.  I didn’t move, I didn’t speak.  I just sat in the same place staring at the wall, barely even blinking.  I was free, but I couldn’t process that fact, I couldn’t process that fact for a long time.  I didn’t know what to do with the fact that I was free, didn’t know what my life meant without constant rape and torture.  I shut down, I completely shut down.  I couldn’t even slightly process or understand what I’d done.  I couldn’t function.  I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was supposed to do next.  I still just wanted to die more than anything.

I still don’t really know what it was that made me leave.  I don’t know what it was that made me decide to live.  But I can say that now, finally, four years later.  I think I am glad that I did.

I spent the next few weeks in the same kinda daze.  Not knowing what I was doing or why I was doing it.  I spent three weeks in a hotel, paid for by the people that were helping me to escape.  I don’t remember those three weeks.  There’s pictures of me during that time, with a friend from the other end of the country visiting me.  But I spent most of that time alone, begging for help and support, begging for a reason to not just give in and go back, but I was still just so alone, my friends seemed unable to deal and left me in the hotel alone.  Early on, the people that had helped me leave took me back to the flat, with a large group of people and with the police on standby in case something happened, to get my cat and to get a few of my things.  I freaked out when I found myself back in that bedroom.  Freaked out when I saw the evidence of what was done to me.  I never went back, though the people helping me did despite my fear for their safety to clear out the flat, grab what was left of my stuff and sell what was needed.

They paid for the deposit for my new flat, helped me apply for benefits, paid for me to go to therapy, covered anything and everything until my benefits came through and I was able to support myself.  But still, I was in such a daze and was in that dissociated state for months to come.

The only clear thought that I had was that I had to go back.  Dom had my number and was calling me constantly, leaving threatening texts, insisting I get in touch with him, tell him where I was.  My mum sent me an email, in the same vein of the letter I described in my last post, telling me how sorry she was, telling me how much she wanted to make it up to me.  Guilting me and manipulating me into going back.  The niceties quickly faded away, though and the emails became much for violent and threatening.  For years, for so many years afterwards I was still just so convinced that I should go back.  That being away was making everything worse, that when they found it me was just going to be so much worse.  Was convinced that I was worth nothing, that I didn’t deserve anything other than the life that I had, that I didn’t deserve ‘better’, I didn’t deserve ‘different’, I didn’t deserve anything other than the pain and the violence and the rapes.

There were so many points where I just almost gave up and went back, but something always seemed to stop me.  Something in me, no matter how much I wanted the exact opposite, always kept me alive.  I somehow defied all odds and actually survived.


If you had asked me three years ago, I would have told you that I’d run away from my mum and my ex, but it was a mistake and I was gonna get in so much trouble and that I had to go back.

If you had asked me two years ago, I might have told you that I’d gotten away from mum and my ex, but that I was going to get in so much trouble, that it’d be easier to just go back before they found me.

If you had asked me a year ago, I might have told you that I had escaped my mum and my ex and that it might be easier to just go back, that there’s still a chance they could find me.

Now, now I’m finally realising that I wasn’t just running away or getting away or escaping from my mum and my ex, I realise that it was so much bigger than that, so much more than that.

Four years ago today, I made it stop.  I exited prostitution.  I escaped my traffickers, my abusers, my rapists.  I wasn’t just getting away from my mum and my ex, I was getting away from all of my traffickers, all of the Johns, all of my abusers, all of my rapists.

RadSurvivor.

Four Years and Counting – Part One

Four years ago today, I actually exited.  I didn’t use the word ‘exited’ at the time, it would be a long time before I’d use the word ‘exited’ or realised it even applies.  For most of the last four years, I completely underestimated what I did that day, that night, I completely dismissed the magnitude and the seriousness of it, I completely dismissed the extent of it.  I didn’t understand what I’d done, I didn’t understand it at the time and I didn’t understand it for a long time afterwards.

I needed to distance myself from that knowledge, from that reality.  If I hadn’t, I would have broken down.  I was already breaking down, I had broken down.  I’d crashed far worse than I ever had before and far worse than I ever have since, even in comparison to the crash that came with the recent disability benefits reassessment; to add the knowledge and the reality of my exiting into conscious thought would have broken me beyond repair, it would have killed me.

I barely knew what I was doing at the time, really.  Even now, those hours, days, weeks, months afterwards are incredibly blurry.  But the events beforehand, or bits and pieces of them anyway, that last day, those last rapes, those last hours are etched so incredibly clearly into my mind.  Before that, though, everything was a blur again.

I’m going to start this post almost a year before my exiting, though, as that is where everything started to change, that is where I started the path into finally leaving, though it is a path that got progressively worse, first.

(Whilst it should be obvious by now, if you’ve followed this blog for a while, there are trigger warnings, there is graphic detail and there are incredibly painful things in this post so read ahead carefully.

Equally, if you haven’t realised by now, I have a distinct inability to be succinct.  This post may end up being in two parts.)


Before March 2011, I’d already partially exited.  Only very partially, but still, enough to have gained even a tiny amount of control over my own life.  I had moved out of my mother’s house when I was 16 years old, on my birthday in fact, for some reason I’d gotten it into my head that at 16 I could legally move out without a parent’s permission.  I don’t know where that ‘knowledge’ had come from, but it became my motivation, my hope, my dream and when the day came, I made no hesitation, I rang my dad, told him I was moving out and told him to come and pick me up.  My mum lost her shit, but that’s another story.

From that point onwards, I was sold on a much less frequent basis, what had been a several times daily experience grew into something that only happened the odd few nights a week and over the weekends as the years went on, it became something that only happened on the days I was dragged back.  Which yeah, still not ideal, but it was a massive improvement.  The freedom I’d gained for myself allowed me to go to college after I left school, something that had never been in the plan for me – once my mum had gotten me out of mainstream education without arousing too much suspicion, I was going to be trapped in prostitution forever and always.  Having the freedom that came with not living with her meant college, it meant friends, it meant potential relationships, it meant getting a job, it meant a future I’d never had before.  I was still being sold, still being raped, still being abused, still being drugged up, but I had a level of freedom.

I was actually happy with that level of freedom for a year or two and eventually, I started to realise I needed to be away from my mum completely.

I didn’t have many of my memories back then.  Dissociation can be both a wonderful and a terrible thing.  I’d completely blocked out any awareness of the trafficking, of the things she had done to me.  In fact, at that point in my life, the only thing I could clearly remember was being raped and abused by my grandfather and being raped and abused by my step-dad.  I didn’t even have any memory of what was still happening.  Dissociation can work in such a way where it completely splits your life into separate categories; one part of yourself dealing with life and school and work and whatever else, having no real conscious awareness of the atrocities you live through each night, another part of yourself dealing with those rapes and those abuses.  Dissociation meant I had little to no memory of what had been and what was happening to me; all I remembered was two abusers who (I believed) were no longer a part of my life.  However, I had a vague awareness that my mother knew about both of those abusers and that became my reason to avoid her completely.

I did everything I possibly could to cut her off from my life, even though parts of me were constantly and instinctively trying to reach out to her; partly out of fear, partly out of a warped sense of devotion and loyalty.  I was homeless for a good chunk of that time, so moving around constantly came with the territory, but it seemed that no matter what hostel or flat or sofa I ended up in or on, she was able to track me down.  I changed numbers frequently, I would beg and beg and beg that other family members wouldn’t pass it on to her, but no matter what I did, she’d always find me somehow.  But I did my best and I kept my distance and I was actually able to not see her for a good chunk of time, though I was still often being picked up by the men that worked with her and was still speaking to her on the phone whenever my ex bankrupted me and I needed to ask for money, which of course I had to earn.

In March 2011, I got a letter.  My mum didn’t have my number, I only ever rang her and I always made sure it was withheld, writing to me was the only way she had of communicating with me.  I can’t remember exactly what that letter said, but I do remember that she said she was sorry.  Sorry for what Paul had done to me, sorry for what she’d let him do to me, sorry for how bad a mother she’d been, sorry for everything and how she wanted to start again, wanted to meet up, wanted to have a proper relationship.  Asked me to come to her house on the 12th at 3pm.  As soon as I opened and read the letter, I knew I was going.  It was like there was no way I could possibly ignore it, I had to do what she said.

I got there at 2:45, I remember really anxiously checking the phone and the time over and over and over.  I didn’t want to be late, didn’t want to piss her off before I even got the chance to try and fix our relationship.  I equally didn’t want to be early, something I knew would piss her off just as much.  I stayed in a back alley near her house, the same alley I used to hide in when I was a child and far too scared to go home.  I’d always go back though, always.  And this time was no different.

I got to the door at 2:58 and she answered it before I finished knocking.  She came and sat on the sofa with me.  Right at the other end.  Not too close, making me feel safe, not crowded or threatened.  I can’t remember what she said exactly.  She kept apologising for what Paul did to me, apologising for being a bad mum.  Kept saying that she wanted to be a good mum but that I made it so hard, that if I could just do as I was told she knew she could be a good mum.  She talked to me for half an hour, I couldn’t get a word out.  Just as I was summoning the strength to try and talk to her, there was a knock at the door.  I was thinking too much on what to say in response to think of looking to see who it was.  Nobody spoke, but I heard them come inside and I heard the door lock behind them.

I panicked, then and turned around, seeing three men who I knew oh so well.  They were friends of my step-dad, men who had been involved in trafficking me for so many years of my life.  I remember feeling sick straight away, I knew I was in trouble.  I knew I couldn’t get out.  I watched as my mum put the key inside her pocket, watched her as she looked at me and smiled.  I still see that smile.  See it so clearly.  She looked so happy and so excited, like she’d finally won.  That smile makes me sick if I think on it for too long.  So many times I close my eyes and see that smile.  I just want to throw up when I see it.

Everything gets kinda blurry from there.  At the same time it seems to move so, so quickly but so, so slowly too.  I don’t know how, but I somehow went from sitting on the sofa, to lying on the floor, my clothes having been ripped off but somehow not torn.  My glass of water had been knocked over in the process, I could feel the puddle under me.  They took turns raping me while my mum recorded it.  Still, no-one had said a word.  They beat me, still using the same clever ways they’d used my entire life, making sure to aim for the places that no-one else, or at least no-one who’d care, would ever see.  Eventually mum made them stop, came up to me and whispered that this was because I put Paul in prison.

I didn’t care, it didn’t matter why, this was nothing less than I deserved, it had always been what I deserved.  A small part of me protested, I wasn’t the one that had gotten Paul imprisoned.  He was there because he’d raped the wrong girl.  He’d raped someone that mattered.  My case had fallen through completely.

It was her turn to rape me.  She’s been inventive over the years, finding whatever she could to assault me with, but that day she was just looking to punish me and hurt me as much as possible.  She’d raped me with knives before that point, and since, but that didn’t make that instance any less painful and horrific.  It was recorded, in the same way that the other rapes that day had been, I could see the men masturbating out of the corner of my eyes.  I didn’t make a noise.  I didn’t want to piss her off, I didn’t want to move, I didn’t want to make it worse.  I just froze, I let her do it and I got as far away as I could so I wouldn’t make a noise.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, dissociation can truly be a wonderful thing.  I think I blacked out completely, though.  I can’t remember much for a few hours after that and it was dark when I came to.

The rest of the week was a blur.  I know I was kept there for 8 days in total.  I wasn’t allowed food or water or sleep or to use the bathroom until I was given permission.  My mum always had the keys, no-one could come or go without her permission.  One of the men, Martin, who was there that first day and who had trafficked me for many years, the one who had always called me his ‘favourite’ kept coming back day after day.  I don’t know how many times I was raped by both him and my mum (with whatever she could find).  The whole week became a blur, I don’t want to remember.

I do remember one specific point where Martin came back and raped me really viciously.  He put something in my vagina and raped me anally while choking me.  He kept saying ‘I love a girl with something to hold on to’ and ‘I like fucking girls with fat rolls’.  He said something to me which stuck with me ever since.  After he was done, leaving me lying there, he got the keys off of my mum and put them near me.  I was naked and bleeding and hurting and scared.  He challenged me to take the keys and run.  He started laughing then, said ‘you’re so fat, I bet you can’t even actually run.  It’d be funny to see you try.  It’d be funny to see someone so fat run.’  That was about the point where I massively relapsed with my eating disorder.  I swore to myself that I would never, ever be so fat and unfit and vulnerable ever again.

I spent most of that week or so either trapped and bound or being raped or tortured or hurt or beaten.  On the last day, after I’d been alone for a few days with just my mum, she came at me with a knife.  She held it to my throat and said that she could kill me right now if she wanted to.  That she’d never have to worry about my leaving again.  I thought she was going to do it.  I wanted her to do it.  I prayed for her to do it.  It felt like we were there for hours with her holding the knife to my throat.  She didn’t.  She forced me to get dressed then called Martin, got him to drive us both back to my flat.  Dom was out.  She forced a load of pills down my throat and left, I didn’t fight her, I still don’t even really know why she did it.  I ended up being sick and spent the next few days really ill.  I survived it, though, even if it wasn’t what I really wanted at the time.

On the 26th, I had to go to work for the whole weekend.  A residential.  I was sharing a room and I just didn’t sleep at all, I didn’t feel even remotely safe or able even though I was with women I knew and trusted.  I got changed in the dark, super early in the morning so the women around me wouldn’t see my injuries.  My ankle had gotten really hurt at some point.  I was so scared someone would find out why.  So I had to lie.  But lying about injuries was something I’d gotten very, very good at.

After that week, my mum came round to my flat on a regular basis.  Always managed to time it for when Dom was out.  I later found out that they’d arranged for him to be gone, he knew what she was doing to me, knew she was selling me again.  In the November of that year, Paul got out of prison and everything got progressively worse.

From March 2011 till May 2012, my life had become what I had just about managed to drag myself out of when I was 16.  I was being raped on a regular basis.  I was being sold on a regular basis.  I had lost all sense of freedom, all sense of hope, I had lost everything.  I knew it was only a matter of time before I was dragged back permanently and I knew that I would never, ever have as much freedom ever again.  I knew that I would be dragged back and I knew that I would die there.

I was in a stupor most of the time.  Part of me was so, so aware that something was wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I was dissociating and forgetting almost constantly and living a life of confusion as a result.  I was waking up with injuries I couldn’t remember getting and I couldn’t possibly have done to myself, even during a dissociated bout of self-harm.  I was waking up to find my bin filled with used condoms.  Finding semen all over my bed even though I knew Dom hadn’t been there.  I didn’t know what was happening to me.  I still didn’t clearly know what had happened to me, though I was starting to remember in tiny little pieces.  Older things, not the things that were happening and I was forgetting instantly.  I was remembering being raped by my mother as a child.  I was remembering being trafficked as a child and a teen.  I was remembering a lifetime of abuse and rape, but I couldn’t put that together with the gaps in my memory for the last few days and weeks and months.  My brain couldn’t quite get there and  I was scared, confused, lost and so, so alone.

Except I wasn’t alone, because I was starting to reach out.  The people I worked with, the people around me, the people that cared for me (though I didn’t really believe that at the time) were starting to notice that something really wasn’t OK, they had noticed the massive weight loss, how withdrawn I was, the fact that I was appearing with injuries – broken fingers, broken ribs, a black eye and I was so dissociated and so out of it and so barely aware of what I was doing that I started to tell them some of what was happening.  They offered their help and their support but for a long time I wasn’t able to really accept it.  They said that if and when I was ready, they would help me leave.  But I wasn’t ready, I still didn’t really believe what was happening and I saw no reason to leave.

It wasn’t just that, though.  I didn’t believe I deserved that help.  I saw myself as nothing more than a worthless whore.  I didn’t believe I deserved anything other than what was happening to me.  I couldn’t see how it wasn’t just my fault.  I’m the one that opened that letter, even though I recognised the handwriting.  I’m the one that went to her house.  I’m the one that let it happen.  I’m the one that let her back into my life.  I’m the one that started the process till it got as bad as it did before I left at 16.  I’m the one that had no strength, no willpower, no will to live, no energy to say no to her, no energy to keep the door locked and refusing to let her in.  I was what had caused it all.  But it was getting worse, so much worse and I knew that if it didn’t stop soon it was going to get to the point where I was just not going to survive.

I half made plans with those people so wanting to help.  I looked at flats that they would help pay for.  I let them help me quit uni. as I couldn’t deal any more.  I let them make plans for me, things to distract me and keep me safe through the day.  I let them get me into therapy (the same therapist I’m still seeing now).  I let them do what they could but I wouldn’t make that final step of letting them help me leave, not yet.  I wasn’t ready.

Making those plans ended up being what made me leave, though, in a roundabout way, or at least I think it was.  I’d like to say it was knowing there was a safety net, people that cared and would help me as much as they could, but it wasn’t that at all.  My mum knew something was different about me, I think she could feel her control over me slipping.  I think she knew I was starting to remember and starting to get a clearer picture.  I think she knew I was planning on getting away.

And that was when everything really got worse.

RadSurvivor.

 

Disability, Benefits, Homelessness and a Catch Up

It’s been quite a few months now since I made my last post, life has been, well, kinda all over the place.  But then, if you hadn’t figured it out already, life is kinda all over the place for victims of prostitution.  The mental and physical health conditions that we live with after exiting are numerous, the effects they have are powerful and best of all, they intersect with and play off of each other – one gets worse, the other gets worse which makes another get worse which makes yet another get worse; until you’re left with a big, tangled mess that feels utterly impossible to get out of.

This whole process is exacerbated when something happens in the first place – whether it be something basic and day-to-day or something much bigger, but if something happens to set us off, we just keep spiralling until it either works itself out or we reach such a level of dissociation or numbness we just simply don’t give a shit any more.  I’m starting to reach that level of dissociation and numbness with what’s been happening to me the last few months, now, but then it partly has actually gotten somewhat better with reassurances from those I love.

If you read my blog frequently, you might remember one of my last posts before my hiatus.  It was a post around homelessness and some of my experiences whilst I was homeless as a teenager.  In that post, I expressed a fear of what would happen if the DWP and the Tories finally came for me and the disability benefits I receive as a result of my mental and physical health – I was scared of what so much seemed like the inevitable road from losing my benefits, to homelessness, to being forced back into prostitution just to be able to survive.

It appears I somewhat jinxed myself writing that post because less than a month later, a letter arrived in the post with my ESA50 form.  For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s a form the DWP sends randomly to people claiming disability benefits to re-assess them.  They’re sent with no warning, no specific reason, no necessity.  They’re random, sent out to catch out the so called ‘benefits cheats’ and they’re fucking devastating and terrifying as well as generally being soul-destroying.

I crashed very quickly after getting the letter.  Slipping into a severe state of depression and anxiety.  I stopped being able to eat or sleep; even when I could manage to eat it made little difference because I was throwing up several times a day from the anxiety; even when I could manage to sleep, it didn’t really matter as I was having so many nightmares I was unable to sleep properly.  My immune system took a battering with the stress and within a few months I managed to get two bouts of the flu, a chest infection and norovirus as well as an increase in my general level of un-wellness – allergies, migraines, joint pain, normal headaches etc.  To top it all off, my C-PTSD got so much worse, I was having so many more flashbacks and to put it lightly, everything was just terrible.

To explain it mentally and emotionally is hard.  I was worrying about and fearing so many different things at once; the form and the letter and the whole situation plus the potential futures it might result in did a serious number on me.  The futures aspect is fairly self-evident – I was terrified of losing my income, becoming homeless and being forced back into prostitution, but it was also so much more than that.  I was given a safety net; told by the woman I love, the woman I am planning on moving in with later this year anyway, that if it came to it, I could stay with her and she’d look after me.

You’d think the offer of such a safety net (and the knowledge that friends would offer the same if it came to it) would be amazing, but there were points where I genuinely believed that living on the streets and being exploited were actually the better options.  This might be difficult to explain, if you’ve never been in a situation where your trust and dependency on someone has left you at serious risk then you’ll never be able to fully understand it.  I’ve been independent for more than a decade, now, since I was 16.  I’ve lived with abusive partners who have stolen from me and abused me and exploited me, but I’ve never depended on them – I’ve always been the ‘breadwinner’, always the one working and earning.  If I was to ever have left them (which I clearly eventually did) I was the one that was going to be financially OK (even if they had robbed me blind and left me with lots of debt), I was the one with the income.

Since the age of 16, I have never allowed myself to financially or for much of anything depend on another person.  I’ve been in relationships with them, lived with abusive men, been exploited and manipulated but I’ve never actually depended or relied upon another person.  Tenancies have always been in my name, I’ve always been the one with the income (even if it has at times only been benefits) or at least not the one without an income, I’ve never emotionally depended on another person for my own survival.  Until recently, I’ve never really even trusted another person.

To put myself in a situation where I completely relied and depended on another person, especially in terms of money and housing was terrifying.  She’s my girlfriend and I trust her more than anyone and we are intending on moving in together, but whilst I would only be contributing a pittance of benefits, at least I would be contributing.  If I was just living with her, relying on her financially, that would be unthinkable, the thought was so incredibly terrifying to me.  I was so scared of allowing myself to be that vulnerable, to be at risk of homelessness (again) after a single argument, to have my entire life in someone else’s hands.

I know this seems awful, I know if there’s anyone I can trust, it’s my girlfriend, but I really just couldn’t get myself to the point where I could trust it, where I could let myself be that vulnerable and that dependent on another person.

I’ve gotten past that, now, or mostly anyway.  I still have reservations in terms of the strain that it would put on our relationship if the worst happens and I lose my benefits, but I know that I could accept her offer of a safety net if I need to.  I trust her enough to accept that offer.

The form itself sent me completely spiralling in a different direction; in fact, it sent me spiralling in two opposite directions all at once.  This isn’t just me, this is the typical response to these forms that I’ve seen from many other disabled people.  You see the form has a magic ability to make you feel both like you’re a complete and utter fraud who isn’t disabled at all and just swindling the system and like you’re a useless piece of shit who can’t do anything without help.  It both makes you feel as if you’re not really disabled while simultaneously making you feel the full weight and extent and limitations of your disabilities.

The system itself is set up so disabled people are no longer disabled, set up in a way so that as many people as possible get refused benefits.  A few years ago, one of the questions was along the lines of ‘can you manage 12 stairs?’, 12 stairs being a normal flight of stairs in a house that many people with various disabilities struggle with, now the question is ‘can you manage 2 stairs?’.  How does that even make a difference, really?  A person might be able to handle 2 stairs, but if they can’t handle 12 that still means they can’t make it to the top floor of their house, still means they can’t make it to the bathroom without support, still means they can’t live life without constant supervision, but that’s all OK, because they can handle 2 stairs.  I’m one of those people that falls in the gap.  My knees are screwed from past trauma and resulting injuries and weakness.  I can handle 2 stairs, most of the time, though there may be times where they give out or lock or dislocate, but when we reach 12 stairs I often wobble, fall into the side of the wall, my knees give out and I’m generally just a bit wobbly and shaky and definitely not going to be winning any races.  But most of the time I can handle 2 stairs, so not a problem.

The questions are dehumanising, unclear and unfair.  You fill in the form feeling like you’re a fraud, like you are one of those ‘benefit scroungers’, like you’re going to get caught out at any moment.  But on the other hand, it leaves you with a stark reality of your life when you start ticking the questions off.  If they’re designed to be almost impossible to successfully get through, then how can you be ticking off quite so many boxes?  Realising just how much you’re unable to do alone, just how much your life is affected by your disabilities can be so soul destroying, can leave you feeling so useless and so worthless – which are feelings we already have an abundance of after being trafficked and prostituted.

Realising that actually, I can’t always pick up heavier things with my hands without randomly losing grip (nerve damage); that I can’t walk from here to the tram stop, just over 100 meters without being in a massive amount of pain and so completely exhausted I have to sit down if I can; that I haven’t been outside by myself more than 3-4 times in the last few months because I’ve been that terrified; that I dissociate not just now and then but almost every single day I spend in my own head, barely aware of what’s happening around me; that I’m still a massive risk to myself, that suicidal ideation crosses my mind every single day and whilst I know I won’t act on it, the thoughts are still there as are the self-harm related thoughts – every time I cross the road I think how easily I just could, every time I chop vegetables I think how easy it could be, every time I light a cig. how easy it’d be.  Every aspect of my life, the ones above and so many others, where I had briefly acknowledged that I was struggling and maybe slightly disabled, I realised the full extent.  I realised that these were things that I struggled with on a constant and permanent basis, not just one-offs.  I realised that I hadn’t had a single moment where I hadn’t at least had a background of slight anxiety in my entire life.  I realised that I’ve never been fully connected to my body and my surroundings, that I’m always at least partly dissociated.  I realised that I hadn’t come anywhere close to ‘recovering’, that ED thoughts plagued me on a daily basis and I’m constantly thinking how easy it would be to just fast, to just skip this meal, to just start losing weight again.  I realised that my life is a complete fucking mess and that I’m really, really not well and definitely not able to work.

The combination of thinking that I’m a fraud and the true extent of my disabilities and the lingering threat of losing my income, potential homelessness and the vulnerabilities that brings all resulted in the same thing – unmanageable levels of worthlessness and uselessness, overwhelming depression and anxiety, practically giving up on caring for myself and such an increase in my suicidal ideation.  I stopped sleeping, barely ate, stopped managing my home, stopped leaving my home, practically quit therapy and healing and recovery, took a massive hit to my immune system and was throwing up daily from the anxiety.

I’m finally starting to get past that, a little, and starting to be able to put my life back together but I know that I’m going to spend however long it takes living in fear of that brown envelope and I know that when it arrives, I’m probably just going to end up right back where I started with the first envelope.

RadSurvivor.

Is This All Just Your Imagination?

He’s trying to convince me that I’m delusional.
But I know I’m fine.  He really did those things.

Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? – Lundy Bancroft

Gaslighting was Dom’s speciality, there’s no denying that.  It got worse as I was living with him, I couldn’t get away from it, it was constant.  Whilst I was jumping from hostel to hostel, from sofa to sofa, from here to there, it was easier, I had time in between to try and put things together.  But when he moved in and everything got worse.  I had no time to think, no time to clear things up or put it in order.  All I had was the ‘reality’ that he imposed on me.

Everything that happened, the few things that he admitted had actually happened and he hadn’t simply convinced me that I was crazy and I imagined it, were my fault.  It was me pushing him over that edge, it was me being the abusive one, him merely defending himself from my vicious, horrible attacks.

I really was so convinced for so long that I was the abusive one, that he really was just defending himself from me.  That I hurt him and he was just doing anything he could to make it stop.

I worked really intently on a memory with my therapist, this week, one that to me just seemed so clear that I really was the abusive one, that he really was just defending himself.  I’d been at uni. all day, I lived really far away because I simply hadn’t been able to afford to move when I started.  It meant leaving at 6:30am each day.  I’d spent the day in uni. then went to work.  I didn’t get home till 11:30pm.

The moment I walked in, he started.  I had barely walked into the living room.  Hadn’t even had time to take my coat off or my shoes off or put my bag down.  He started yelling at me, talking about how disgusting and messy the flat was, said that just because I was a crack whore didn’t mean we both had to live like one.  Said how disgusting and lazy and useless I was.  Before I’d gone to bed the night before, I knew I’d cleaned the entire kitchen, knew I’d washed all the pots, knew I’d tidied the living room of plates and food wrappers, I knew I’d done it.  He kept going on and on about how disgusting everything was.  I snapped.

I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sit down and chill with a brew for half an hour before I got on to writing an essay.  I was so mad at him.  I knew I’d washed all the pots but there he was, sat on the sofa, surrounded by what seemed to be every single plate in the kitchen, several crisp and chocolate and cake wrappers and leftovers from the chippy as well as crumpled up tissues everywhere.  He was still playing his game, he hadn’t even paused it to yell at me.  I knew he’d been playing it all day, making more and more of a mess around himself.

I yelled back, calling him lazy and useless and calling him the one thing that I knew upset and hurt him the most, the one thing I knew he’d have the biggest reaction to, but I was just so upset and angry and exhausted.  I said that if he wasn’t such a fat, lazy bastard he would have done some cleaning himself.  That I worked, that I paid the rent, that I bought the food, that I did all the cleaning and all he had to do was not make more mess.  Calling him ‘fat’ was the exact thing I shouldn’t have done.  He got so angry, actually paused his game, got off the sofa and beat the crap out of me.  Said if I was so disgusted by how fat he was then I was gonna hate this.  He dragged me by my hair to the bedroom, forced me to get undressed and raped me.  Deliberately letting all of his weight drop on top of me, smothering me with his body, hurting me as much as he could.  Repeating over and over that he didn’t care how fat he was, especially not if it pissed me off and disgusted me so much.  That I was gonna pay for calling him fat.

For years afterwards, whenever he brought it up, he repeatedly said it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had called him ‘fat’ and I believed him.  I believed that I pushed it, that I was the one that caused it all.  That I was so horrible and cruel and abusive for calling him that, that he was merely responding to my abusiveness.

My therapist made me see it a different way.  That he’d clearly been planning it all day.  He’d been coming up with ‘excuses’ and ‘justifications’ to hurt me.  That he made the decision to start yelling at me the moment I walked in, that I just wouldn’t have been able to win.  She’s right, I wouldn’t have been able to.  If I hadn’t been so exhausted and hadn’t snapped, a few different things would have happened, but they all would have resorted in him hurting me.  I’d’ve apologised and started cleaning but he’d say it was too late for apologies and attack me anyway.  Or he’d get mad because I’d end up not cleaning well enough or quick enough (either by his standards or because I was too exhausted to do much better) or I’d’ve begged for the opportunity to do it in the morning, which would have just pissed him off, or I’d’ve asked if it was OK if I just sit down for a few minutes first, which again would have pissed him off.  From the moment I walked in, I wasn’t going to win, he’d already decided that I wasn’t going to win.  I knew he was going to end up hitting me that night and I knew he was going to end up raping me.  I knew he’d been planning it all day, I knew it from the moment I saw the tissues.  I knew exactly what they were.  I knew he’d been sat on that sofa jacking off to the idea of hurting me.  He had planned it and he’d found an ‘excuse’ and nothing I could have said or done would have changed it.  It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d called him ‘fat’ or not, he was gonna hurt me anyway.

My calling him ‘fat’ might have been out of order, it might have been a low blow, but it wasn’t abusive, not really.  It was the first and only time I ever called him ‘fat’, it wasn’t repeated, emotional and verbal abuse.  I didn’t make him stand on the scales, weigh himself in front of me each day, criticise his clothing choices, point out fat rolls in various tops or say things like ‘do you really want your friends to see you when you look that fat and disgusting?’, I didn’t criticise his food choices, I didn’t control what he ate – either deliberately starving him or forcing him to eat more than he wanted (the more weight you put on, the more you’re shamed for it, the more likely you are to deliberately isolate yourself), I didn’t do any of the things he did to me for five years (all of the above), I said the word ‘fat’ once, which hardly constitutes abuse.

It still scares me that I am the abusive one, though.  I really carefully and callously and maliciously went for what I knew would hurt him the most, I thought it through, I deliberately went for it and I’m scared that does make me abusive.  I was knowingly going for the most pain I could.

Even if it was abusive, abuse doesn’t justify abuse.  In any scenario, with any two people, one calling the other ‘fat’ doesn’t justify violent physical attacks and rape.  It just doesn’t.

That was one of his attacks on me that he acknowledged, that he admitted was real, that had actually happened.  But he massively twisted it to put me in the wrong, to make me the abusive one, to make me the bad one, to put the blame on me.  He twisted it so he was only defending himself after I called him the most hurtful, painful thing I could think to call him.

Most of the things he did to me, though, he’d outright deny were real, that they happened at all.  Honestly, I probably made it easier for him to do this with my already messed up mental health from the trafficking, incest and other abuse long before I even met him.  I have a dissociative disorder which means that things like keeping track of time, events, knowing whether something really happened or not and chronology is really difficult for me.  It meant that, in general, keeping track of everything was difficult for me and with his deliberate gaslighting and manipulation and his lies, it left me doubting everything so, so much.

Even when I had physical proof – scars, bruises, scratches, cuts, semen stains in my underwear and on my body, he’d find a way to twist it and convince me I was wrong.  ‘Of course you wanted to, baby’, ‘Baby, you’re a self-harmer, what makes you think I did it?’, ‘You’re losing it, you probably just fell over again, you know how clumsy you are’, ‘Don’t you remember you fell down the stairs?’  I’d be so, so sure it was him, I knew with every bone of my body it was him, but half the time I couldn’t remember the actual event and the rest of the time he was able to convince me I was just remembering wrong.

The time he pushed me down the stairs because I threatened to leave him became me being so upset I missed a step and fell.

Every time he hit me or beat me became me being clumsy and walking in to something.

Every time he screamed at me or threw things at me or did anything, I was just remembering wrong.

He used my past trauma against me.  Convinced me that I was just a messed up, crazy survivor who was projecting her past on to the here and now.  That I was just seeing abuse everywhere, even where there wasn’t abuse.  That I was blurring the past with the now and seeing my step-dad and my mum and my family when I should have been seeing him.  I really believed he was right, that I really was just a crazy survivor projecting and misinterpreting and who was just so sensitive and broken and easily triggered that I saw abuse when it just wasn’t there.  A crazy survivor who was self-harming, hurting myself and then blaming him – even if my logical mind could see that it wasn’t even remotely possible for me to make bruises like that, especially not considering that my usual form of self-harm is cutting.

Staying sane was nearly impossible.  I didn’t know which way was up.  I didn’t know what was happening.  I didn’t know if I was being abused by a violent man or if I was just so crazy I was imagining it all, even hurting myself to fulfil those beliefs.  It took me a long time to be able to consistently hold on to the belief that he really was hurting me, that I wasn’t just crazy.  It probably wasn’t until the last six months or so of the ‘relationship’ that I was really able to acknowledge that he was hurting me, even if I wasn’t yet fully able to acknowledge it as abuse.

I know why he did it.  He couldn’t be held responsible for what he was doing if I was either causing it or imagining it all.  I had no reason to leave him.  I definitely couldn’t go to the police.  The more I believed it wasn’t happening, the less likely he was to get in trouble.  The less likely he’d be able to carry on doing what he was doing.

But there was nothing wrong with me.  I really wasn’t just crazy or delusional.  He was lying to me, he was manipulating me, he was justifying what he did to me.  I wasn’t just imagining things or making things up; he really was hurting me and he really was abusing me.

It’s still hard to keep my memories together and keeping them in reality.  It’s still hard to see the whole situation and not cut it down to where I can blame myself, where I can see myself as the abusive one.  There’s a massive difference between me coming home and calling Dom ‘fat’ and him retaliating because I was so abusive and me coming home, being yelled and screamed at, being criticised and belittled whilst knowing that for the last few years I’d been responsible for everything and like all working class women juggling more than is feasibly possible and when I snap and retaliate being violently beaten and raped in punishment.

It’s still hard to not even re-read that and fight and argue with myself.  What right did I have to call him ‘fat’?  That surely is my being abusive, right?  If any woman told me that their boyfriend called them fat, wouldn’t I say that was abusive?  So why isn’t it abusive if I said it to him?  I know power structures play into this; women are much more shamed and belittled and humiliated in relation to their bodies than men are, but that still doesn’t really make it OK?

Or does it not even matter whether it was OK or not?  Does it not matter on the basis that he verbally attacked me first, that he set up a situation where he could beat me and rape me?  That even if my calling him ‘fat’ wasn’t OK, his reaction was extreme and out of proportion?

Trying to keep it all in place in my head is still difficult at times.  I so often find myself questioning if it really did happen or if I really am just crazy.  And if it did happen, was I really the one to blame?

Trying to untie the knots that he left my mind in with his gaslighting now is one of the hardest parts of all of this healing process; especially considering he wasn’t the only one that left knots in there.

RadSurvivor.